Matthew’s Nativity – An Investigative Breakdown

Easy to forget, the Christmas Nativity story didn’t happen in a single night – it is a time-lapsed compilation of what took place over many weeks, if not months. Two Gospels, Luke and Matthew, are the sources of the Nativity story.[1]

Luke’s account starts just before the birth of Jesus of Nazareth ending when he was about a month old. Matthew’s account starts later, “Now after Jesus was born…”[2] No longer in a stable, “when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother.”[3]

Herod, King of Judea, was in his Jerusalem palace rather than one of his three other palaces in Herodium, Jericho and Caesarea.[4] Soon he would move to Jericho to live out his final days with a most miserable health condition.[5]

As strange as it may seem to have purveyors of mysticism in the story of Jesus, Matthew writes, “Wise men from the East came to Jerusalem,” in some translations appearing as “Magi.”[6] According to the Talmud, magi were from Persia, also known as “fire worshippers” and “Guebers.”[7] Magi had a long history of persecuting the Jews making them well-known, feared and disliked by the Jews.[8]

Calling upon the King, the Magi were promptly welcomed into his palace. Afterall, magi were highly regarded in the former Persian and Greek Empires known as “king makers,” according to Plato.[9]

Greek Hellenism accepted all religions, especially Zoroastrianism with its magian priests who had a reputation for their ability to read the stars and make accurate predictions.[10] Herod openly embraced Hellenism even incorporating Greek inscriptions and architectural features in the enhanced Jewish Temple causing great consternation with the Jews.[11]

These king-makers said something most alarming, shocking to King Herod. The Magi announced the reason for their visit and asked:

MT 2:2 “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.”  When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.” (NKJV)

Any king, especially Herod, would be distressed when these king-maker Magi said they were looking for a young “King of the Jews.” And, they didn’t use future tense; rather present tense – he was already a king. More disconcerting, the Magi said they had “come to worship Him” which seemed very likely the people might want to do the same.

Word of what the Magi had said leaked out to the people of Jerusalem. Not surprisingly they were also “troubled,” at the very least, because the rumor mill presented an air of uncertainty which always worries the populace. If the child was the foretold Messiah, that speculation certainly stirred the pot more.

Herod’s next action clearly demonstrates he believed the Magi when he “gathered all the chief priests and scribes together asking them where the Christ was to be born.”[12] A change in language is of special note. The Magi inquired about the birth of a “King of the Jews” while Herod’s quote uses the Greek word Christos.

Whether this change in language is attributable to Matthew or if Herod connected the dots concluding the King of the Jews meant the Messiah, it didn’t make any difference. The chief priests and scribes understood what Herod was asking as evidenced by their specific answer.

Jewish chief priests and scribes – the Jewish leadership – reported to Herod that a Ruler was prophesied to be born “In Bethlehem of Judea.” Unambiguous, their answer included a quote from the prophecy of Micah 5:2:

MT 2:5-6 “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet: ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, Are not the least among the rulers of Judah; For out of you shall come a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel.’”

Reaction by Herod was telling. For the King, based on the response by the Jewish leadership, there was only one course of action – eliminate the threat.

Mention by the Magi that they had seen “his star” initially was not an attention-getting detail overshadowed by the bombshell statement there was another King of the Jews. Now the “star” was important to Herod. Was it a supernatural appearance or is there a scientific explanation?

Regardless, Herod took it at face value that the Magi did, in fact, see “his star.” Undoubtedly, they saw something in the night sky compelling them to travel hundreds of miles “from the East.” But, the Magi they didn’t say when they had seen “his star.” Not needing to know all the details of astronomy, the King realized the time of the star’s appearance would determine the child’s age.

Wanting this single detail, Herod “secretly called the wise men” for one specific purpose – to “determine[d] from them what time the star appeared.”[13] The Magi still hadn’t yet received an answer to their question and agreed to meet with Herod again.

Information from the secret meeting served to be useful to both sides. Herod “sent them to Bethlehem” providing the Magi with the location of the child. Herod was able to determinewhen the Magi saw “his star” and thus the age of the child.[14]

Cunningly, Herod told the Magi, “when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also.” Herod worshiped no one or thing – the trap was set. As for the Magi:

MT 2:9-10 “When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy.”

A second appearance of the “star” is a solid clue that opens the door for the science of astronomy to plausibly explain the “star.” An extremely rare series of stellar conjunctions occurred during an 18-month period in 3-2 BC centered around Jupiter. Known as the “king star,” Jupiter came into two extremely close conjunctions 9 months apart with Venus, known as the mother or Queen star.[15]

Jupiter’s movement through the night sky after the second occultation (overlapping/fused) conjunction on June 17, 2 BC, continued its odyssey. Jupiter’s celestial path moved into a retrograde U-turn in the southwestern sky.

From the vantage point of Jerusalem, Jupiter appeared to stop over Bethlehem beginning December 25, 2 BC, lasting until January 2, 1 BC.[16] Minimal nightly movement would have been indistinguishable giving it the illusion of stopping in its position.[17]

Finding the child in Bethlehem was probably not difficult – in a small town, everyone knows what’s what, just ask. Finding Jesus, the Magi “fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented expensive gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”

Perhaps the most telling details of the Nativity story – Magi had traveled hundreds of miles to find and worship a child they described as the “King of the Jews” presenting him with very expensive gifts. Who would do this, much less for just a child? Considering the Magi’s reputation as “king-makers” and adversaries of the Jews, it was all the more remarkable.

King Herod’s perspective was completely different. So much, in fact, he took dramatic, merciless action to eliminate the threat to his kingdom.

MT 2:16 “Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men.”

Now it becomes clear why Herod wanted to determine the age of the child. The King had undoubtedly believed the Magi concluding they had deceived him whereupon he took the drastic action of commanding all the children 2 years old and younger in the districts of Bethlehem to be killed. A 2-year range to remove any room for error fits Herod’s ruthless, cruel profile.

More than capable of such evil deeds, for Herod there were no bounds. He had killed countless Jews for simply disobeying Jewish law, not to mention killing his brother, three sons, a former Jewish High Priest, and plotted to have all the “principal men” of Judea killed upon his own death.[18]

At least 20 specific details are laid out in a logical sequence in 16 verses, much that is corroborated by history and science. Does this strengthen the credibility to Matthew’s account that sets the stage for presenting the Gospel of Jesus of Nazareth?

 

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

REFERENCES:

All Bible quotes are from the New King James Version.

[1] Matthew 2; Luke 2.
[2] Matthew 2:1.
[3] Matthew 2:11.
[4] Burrell, Barbara; Gleason, Kathryn L.; Netzer, Ehud. “Uncovering Herod’s Seaside Palace. BAS Library. 1993. <https://www.baslibrary.org/biblical-archaeology-review/19/3/7>  Geva, Hillel.  “Archaeology in Israel:  Jericho – the Winter Palace of King Herod.” Jewish Virtual Library. 2019. <https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jericho-the-winter-palace-of-king-herod>  “Herodium-King Herod-s Palace-Fortress.” Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 2000. < https://mfa.gov.il/mfa/israelexperience/history/pages/herodium%20-%20king%20herod-s%20palace-fortress.aspx>  Josephus, Flavius. Antiquities of the Jews.  Trans. William Whitson. Book XV, Chapter XI. <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false> Josephus, Flavius. Wars of the Jews. Trans. William Whitson. Book I, Chapter XXI.  <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false>  “Herod the Great.” Bible History Online. 2016. <http://www.bible-history.com/herod_the_great>  “Herod.” Jewish Virtual Library. n.d. <https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/herod>
[5] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVII, Chapter VI.
[6] Matthew 2:1. Netbible.org. <http://classic.net.bible.org/verse.php?book=Mat&chapter=2&verse=1>
[7] Soncino Babylonian Talmud. Ed. Isidore Epstein. The Soncino Press. 1935-1948. Sanhedrin 98a.  <https://israelect.com/Come-and-Hear/sanhedrin/sanhedrin_98.html#98a_22> Sanhedrin 74b. <https://israelect.com/Come-and-Hear/sanhedrin/sanhedrin_74.html>  “Babylonia.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/10263-magi>
[8] Segal, Eliezer. “The Menorah and the Magi.” Sources. 1997. <https://people.ucalgary.ca/~elsegal/Shokel/971219_MagiMenorah.html> Missler, Chuck. “Who Were the Magi?” Idolphin.org.1999. <http://www.ldolphin.org/magi.html>
[9] Plato. Alcibiades 1. Trans. W.R.M. Lamb. c. 390 AD. 1 121e-1232. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0176%3Atext%3DAlc.%201%3Asection%3D122a>  “Herodotus. The Histories.  Book 3, Chapters 30, 60-79.  Missler. “Who Were the Magi?” Plato. Republic. Trans.Paul Shorey. 9.572e. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0168%3Abook%3D9%3Asection%3D572e>   Herodotus. The Histories. Book 1, Chapters 107-122. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0239%3Abook%3D1>  Polybius. Histories. Book 34, Chapter 2. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.01.0234:book=34:chapter=2&highlight=magi>  Herodotus.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2018. <https://www.britannica.com/biography/Herodotus-Greek-historian>
[13] Diogenes Laertius. Lives of Eminent Philosophers. 8.1; 9/7. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.01.0258:book=9:chapter=7&highlight=Magians%2C> “Pythagoras.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2018. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Pythagoras>  “Cyrus takes Babylon.” Livius.org. Ed. Jona Lendering. 2018. <http://www.livius.org/sources/content/herodotus/cyrus-takes-babylon> “Democritus.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2018. <https://www.britannica.com/biography/Democritus> Diogenes. Lives. 9.7.
[10] “Zoroastrianism.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/15283-zoroastrianism>
[11] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XV, Chapter VIII; Book XVI, Chapter V; Book XVII, Chapters VI; VIII. Josephus. Wars. Book I, Chapter XXI.  “Hellenism” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/7535-hellenism>
[12] Matthew 2:4. Greek text. NetBible.org. <http://classic.net.bible.org/verse.php?book=Mat&chapter=2&verse=4>
[13] Matthew 2:7.
[14] Matthew 2:8, 16.
[15] Phillips, Tony.  “A Christmas Star for SOHO.”  NASA Science | Science New. 16 May 2000.  <http://web.archive.org/web/20170516003444/https://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2000/ast16may_1>  “Venus And Jupiter Will Pass 42 Arc seconds Apart On May 17.” Press Release – Marshall Space Flight Center. SpaceRef.com. 2000. <http://www.spaceref.com/news/viewpr.html?pid=1819>  Carroll, Susan S. “The Star of Bethlehem:  An Astronomical and Historical Perspective.”1997. Twin Cities Creation Science Association. n.d. <http://www.tccsa.tc/articles/star_susan_carroll.pdf>
Martin, Ernest L. The Star of Bethlehem – The Star That Astonished the World. Associates for Scriptural Knowledge. 2003. Chapter 4.  Larson, Frederick A. The Star of Bethlehem. 2014. <http://www.bethlehemstar.net/setting-the-stage/why-are-we-hearing-this-now>  Haley, A. S. “The Star of Bethlehem and the Nativity.” Anglican Curmudgeon. 2009.   <http://web.archive.org/web/20171016111146/http://www.newmanlib.ibri.org/Papers/StarofBethlehem/75starbethlehem.htm>
[16] Martin. The Star of Bethlehem. Chapter 4.  Larson. The Star of Bethlehem. “The Starry Dance.”  Carroll. “The Star of Bethlehem:  An Astronomical and Historical Perspective.”
[17] Martin. The Star of Bethlehem. Chapter 4.  Haley. “The Star of Bethlehem and the Nativity.” “The Star of Bethlehem.” Northern Ireland Amateur Astronomy Society. 2006. <http://web.archive.org/web/20120103020452/http://www.eaas.co.uk/news/star_of_bethlehem.html>   Carroll. “The Star of Bethlehem:  An Astronomical and Historical Perspective.”
[28] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XV, Chapters III-VII, IX, XIII, XVI; Book XVI, Chapter XI; Book XVII, Chapters VI, IX.  Josephus. Wars. Book I, Chapters X, XXVII, XXXIII.

 

An Unusual Roman Census Decree By Caesar Augustus

Traditional Nativity stories refer to the “census” decreed by Caesar Augustus. It was the motivation for Joseph to take Mary in her eighth month of pregnancy to Bethlehem 90-miles away when Gospels of  Matthew and Luke say she gave birth to Jesus of Nazareth. Secular historical timelines present a conflict with these Gospels.

LK 2:1-3 “Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city.” NASB

Surprisingly the word “census” is not used in some of the Gospel English translations. One reason is that nowhere in the original Greek texts is found the Latin word censēre .[1] In a parallel comparison, the translated English word “census” appears only once in any of the four voluminous works by Josephus, an Antiquities reference to a census taken by Moses.[2]

Derived from the Latin word censēre is the English word “census” whereas the only possible Greek equivalents are the two words, apographo and apographe, with very similar meanings.[3] By definition, as a verb, apographo means an activity to “write off (a copy or list), i.e. enrollment.” The noun, apographe, means “an enrollment, by implication an assessment,” the actual registry data produced by the enrollment activity.

As a verb, apographo the activity, is used in Luke 2, verses 1 and 3 while the noun, apographe the registry document, is used in verse 2. Both Greek words have been interchangeably translated in English Bible translations using variations of five different words – “census,” “registered,” “enrolled,” “numbering,” and “taxed.”[4]

Applying the Greek definitions to Luke’s account, Augustus issued a decree for an enrollment activity in verse 1. The actual enrollment register (list) documentation was completed while Quirinius was governing in Syria in verse 2. Everyone had to travel to his own city for the enrollment activity in verse 3.

Backdrop to the historical context are the multiple facets associated with a Roman censēre where enumeration of Roman citizens was the prized objective. Augustus took three lustrum Roman censuses during his 44-year reign.[5] In Caesar’s own words:

“I made a census of the people with Marcus Agrippa as my colleague. I conducted a lustrum, after a forty-one year gap, in which lustrum were counted 4,063,000 heads of Roman citizens. Then again, with consular imperium I conducted a lustrum alone when Gaius Censorinus and Gaius Asinius were consuls (8 B.C.E.), in which lustrum were counted 4,233,000 heads of Roman citizens. And the third time, with consular imperium, I conducted a lustrum with my son Tiberius Caesar as colleague, when Sextus Pompeius and Sextus Appuleius were consuls (14 A.C.E.), in which lustrum were counted 4,937,000 of the heads of Roman citizens.” – The Deeds of Augustus

Roman lustrums involved a lesser known religious component. A sacred ceremony at the conclusion of a lustrum involved the Censor offering a sacrifice to the god Mars on behalf of Rome’s citizens.[6]

Taxation comes into play because data collection from a censēre was typically used to determine a tax valuation, an assessment or appraisal. A Roman procurator was then responsible for actual tax collection activities managed through local authorities.[7]

Abuses of tax collection were rife, a natural consequence of the Roman tax collection system. Publicani purchased franchise rights to collect taxes through an auction held in Rome.[8] A franchise inherently involves making a profit, but Rome didn’t care about how the proceeds were collected as long as the government received its expected revenue. This opened the door to dishonest and abusive behaviors to collect more revenue than was necessary by the franchise owner’s tax collection agents known as publicans, the despised tax collectors of the Gospels such as the Disciple Matthew.[9]

Syncing Luke’s account with the Augustus census in 8 BC does not come without controversy concerning historians, religious scholars, and detractors who take varied and opposing positions. According to Luke, the birth of Jesus occurred when Quirinius governed in Syria making the year 8 BC too soon under known or possible historical scenarios.

Further complicating the picture is the controversy surrounding the date of Herod’s death. Herod had to be alive in as referenced in Matthew’s account establishing this limiting parameter, corroborated in Luke who added two more parameters – the “census” and Quirinius factors.[10]

Secular historical calendars place Herod’s death in 4 BC. This year is determined from the printed accounts of Josephus’ Antiquities on which the secular timeline is reckoned. The calculation is based on the anchor date of the 20th year of the reign of Tiberius.[11]

Investigation by historian buff David Beyer on the Antiquities content included travel to major world libraries holding handwritten copies predating the first printings that came as a result of the invention of the Gutenburg press in 1544.[12] He discovered all existing handwritten manuscripts of Antiquities actually say Herod’s death occurred during the 22nd year of Tiberius, not the 20th year. Recalculating, the 2-year difference translates into Herod’s death occurring in 2 BC or early 1 BC – not 4 BC.[13]

Building on Beyer’s discovery, Dr. Earnest Martin’s research points to a special set of circumstances in 2 BC.[14] Rome was in the height of its glory commemorating the 750th anniversary of its founding and was the same year as the Silver Jubilee reign of Caesar Augustus.

Inspired by the circumstances of 2 BC, the Senate bestowed upon their emperor the honor of Pater Patriae, the “Father of the Country.” Augustus considered it to be one the highlights of his reign listed in The Deeds of Divine Augustus. To underscore this honor, prompted by the Senate, Augustus decreed a “registration” to be taken of the entire Roman Empire claiming allegiance to him as Pater Patriae.[15]

Dr. Gerard Gertoux conducted independent research where the results corroborate the findings of Beyer and Martin. Dr. Gertoux concluded that Luke’s “census of the world” occurred in 2 BC and was not for taxation purposes. Gertoux determined that Caesar’s motivation for the “census” was to quantify the entire resources of Rome as part of his breviarium totius imperii eventually to be read at his funeral along with the unveiling of his Res gestae divi Augusti (The Deeds of Divine Augustus).[16]

Research evidence produced by Beyer, Martin and Gertoux establishes a 2 BC timeline for a special “census” registration decreed by Augustus that occurred before the death of King Herod in late 2 BC or early 1 BC. These findings are consistent with the three dating parameters documented in the accounts of Matthew and Luke – Augustus, his census decree, and during Herod’s reign.

Perhaps the strongest evidence of Luke’s reference that a registration decree was issued by Augustus has nothing to do with history and is best presented with a question. How likely is it that Joseph would risk taking Mary, a young pregnant teenage girl, away from her comfortable home and family on a difficult, treacherous week’s long journey on the back of a donkey to Bethlehem 90 miles away knowing it was quite possible that Mary could give birth in the wilderness along the way – unless the Town Crier’s announcement gave them no other choice?[17]

 

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

REFERENCES:

[1] “Census.”  Merriam-Webster. 2018. <https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/census
[2] Josephus, Flavius. Antiquities of the Jews. Book 3, Chapter 12.4. The Complete Works of Josephus. 1850. <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false>
[3] Luke Greek text. Net.bible.org. “apographo <583>” and “aprographe <582>.” n.d. <http://lexiconcordance.com>
[4] NASV, NRSV, ASV, BBE, KJV
[5] Augustus, Caesar.  The Deeds of the Devine Augustus (Res gestae divi Augusti). #8. Trans. Thomas Bushnell. 1998. <http://classics.mit.edu/Augustus/deeds.html>
[6] “Lustrum.” Livius.org. Ed. Jona Lendering. 2018. <http://www.livius.org/concept/lustrum>
[7] Smallwood, E. Mary.  The Jews Under Roman Rule: From Pompey to Diocletian. 2nd Ed. 1981. pp 151-152. http://books.google.com/books?id=jSYbpitEjggC&lpg=PA151&ots=VWqUOinty4&dq=census%20Syria%20Rome&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false Smith, William. “Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography.” 1901. 3rd Ed., Vol. 1. “Censor”, “Publicani” and “Vectigalia.” <https://books.google.com/books?id=Cu89AAAAYAAJ&pg=PA403&lpg=PA403&dq=greek+word+for+census&source=bl&ots=LM1MjmCiJt&sig=1_yjJgyNxcCcSWZvf0QK69IJuMw&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjx0oPA04DYAhXo6YMKHebvAEwQ6AEIejAK#v=onepage&q=census&f=false “Procurator.” Livius.org. Ed. Jona Lendering. 2018. <http://www.livius.org/concept/procurator>
[8] Smallwood.  The Jews Under Roman Rule. p 152.
[9] Matthew 9; Luke 5. Smith, W. Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities. “Censor.” “Publicani” and “Vectigalia.”
10] Matthew 2; Luke 1. Smallwood. The Jews Under Roman Rule. Appendix E, p 568.
[11] Josephus.  Antiquities of the Jews. Book XVIII, Chapters IV.6 and V.4.  Bernegger, P.M. “Affirmation of Herod’s Death in 4 B.C.” Journal of Theological Studies Vol. 34, no 2. 1983. pp 526-531. <http://www.redatedkings.com/postings/Bernegger.pdf> Schurer, Emil. A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ. Volume 1. 1890. pp 464-465, footnote 165. <http://books.google.com/books?id=BRynO3W9FPcC&pg=PP1#v=snippet&q=Tiberius&f=false> Doig, Kenneth F.  New Testament Chronology. 1990. Chapter 4.<http://nowoezone.com/NT_Chronology.htm>
[12] Chase, Jeffrey S. “The Gutenberg Printing Press.” n.d. <http://www.cs.duke.edu/~chase/cps49s/press-summary.html>
[13] Beyer, David W.  “Josephus Reexamined:  Unraveling the Twenty-Second Year of Tiberius.” pp 90-93, 95-96.  <http://books.google.com/books?id=mWnYvI5RdLMC&lpg=PP1&dq=isbn%3A0865545820&pg=PA85#v=snippet&q=beyer&f=false> Wolfram, Chuck. “The Herodian Dynasty.” 2004. <http://web.archive.org/web/20151013221102/http:/freepages.history.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~cwolfram/herod> Martin, Ernest L. The Star of Bethlehem – The Star That Astonished the World. Chapter 13. <http://askelm.com/star/star000.htm#_edn11
[14] Gertoux, Gerard. “Dating the two Censuses of Quirinius.”  n.d.  pp 6-7. <http://www.academia.edu/3184175/Dating_the_two_Censuses_of_Quirinius>
[15] Augustus. The Deeds of the Devine Augustus. #35.  “pater patriae.”  Nova Roma. 2017. <www.novaroma.org/nr/Pater_Patriae_(Nova_Roma)>  “pater patriae.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2018. <https://www.britannica.com/topic/pater-patriae> Martin. The Star of Bethlehem. Chapter 13.  Mosley, John. “Common Errors in ‘Star of Bethlehem’ Planetarium Shows.” Reprint from Planetarian, Third Quarter 1981. <http://www.ips-planetarium.org/?page=a_mosley1981> Gertoux. “Dating the two Censuses of Quirinius.” p 7.
[16] Gertoux. “Dating the two Censuses of Quirinius.”  pp 6-7.  Davis, William Steams, ed.  Readings in Ancient History: Illustrative Extracts from the Sources. Vol. II: Rome and the West. 1912-13. pp. 166-172. <http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/ancient/14resgestae.asp>  Schaff, Philip. “Chronology of the Life of Christ.”  History of the Christian Church, Volume I: Apostolic Christianity. A.D. 1-100. 1890. Chapter 2, Sec 16.  <http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/hcc1.i.II_1.16.html>
[17] “Distance between Nazareth and Bethlehem.” DistanceFromTo.net. 2018. <https://www.distancefromto.net/between/Nazareth/Bethlehem> “What is the distance between Nazareth and Bethlehem?” Reference.com. 2017. <https://www.reference.com/geography/distance-between-nazareth-bethlehem-6ac7e95c8360c7c7#> Bing.com/maps. Modern day mileage calculation from Bethlehem to Nablus (Nazareth) <https://binged.it/2mNpBy8>

 

 

Nazareth’s Town Crier Proclamation that Changed History

It seemed highly unlikely that Jesus would be born anywhere else other than Nazareth. The angel, Gabriel, who visited Mary announcing her supernatural conception did not instruct her to go anywhere else to bear her child so why would she think otherwise?

Mary was expected to give birth at home – most certainly not in a stone enclave used to shelter livestock in the faraway town of Bethlehem.[1] Nearly 9 months pregnant, Mary would have been looking forward to having the support of her husband, family and friends over the few remaining days when that special moment would arrive.

Suddenly, the Town Crier shouted out a proclamation that changed history and Mary’s destiny when he announced a decree from none other than Caesar Augustus :[2]

LK 2: 1-3 “And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city.” NKJV

What exactly did the Town Crier proclaim that would compel Joseph and Mary to promptly leave for Bethlehem? Traditional Nativity stories cite a “census” decree by Caesar Augustus. Perhaps surprisingly, the word “census” is not used in many of the English Gospel translations.  

Greek for “census” is kensos meaning “tax” which does not appear in Luke’s Greek text.  Used only four times in Bible Greek texts, kensos is used exclusively by the author of Matthew, all specifically in the context of “tax” and not related to the Nativity story.[3]Latin for “census” is the word censēre and is found nowhere in Bible Greek texts.[4]

First and third verses of Luke chapter 2 contain the Greek word apographo, a verb meaning an activity to “write off (a copy or list), i.e. enrollment.”[5] Caesar’s decree initiated an action to make a list of the population in the Roman Empire by conducting an enrollment process. It has been translated into English in various Bible versions as “census,” “registration,” “enrolled,” “numbering,” and “taxed.”[6]

Verse 2 uses the Greek word apographe, a noun meaning “an enrollment, by implication an assessment.”[7] It refers to the documented record – a written enrollment register or listing resulting from the actions initiated by Caesar’s decree.

Translating Greek to English has its challenges and Luke’s Nativity story is a prime example. The difficulty for translators is capturing the correct distinctions in the English translation by relying, at least to some degree, on their contextual interpretation of the text.[8]

Roman censuses required an oath to be given at the time of registration and they were not just used for taxation assessments. Censuses also had several other purposes such as to enumerate the population; establish a public registry; identify who were Roman citizens; and sizing the military.[9]

Common to all five English translation variations of Augustus’ decree are the characteristics of taking an action that produced a documented enrollment registration or a listing which, regardless of purpose, required an oath and enumerated the population. All translations are thus consistent with a typical Roman census registration process.[10]

Town criers announcing Augustus’ decree informed people when and where to appear for the registration.[11] Compliance was not optional. Failure to do so was a very serious Roman offense known as incensus, the origin of the English word “incense” meaning “to arouse extreme anger or indignation.” Punishment was harsh including the possibility of loss of property, slavery, imprisonment or even death.[12]

LK 2: 4-6 “Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. So it was,that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered.”NKJV

Proclamation by the Town Crier in Nazareth came at the tail end of months of Roman government planning and implementation throughout the vast Empire.[13] Interestingly, if the Crier’s announcement had occurred just a couple of weeks earlier or later, as very easily could have happened, Jesus would have been born in Nazareth. Timing of the proclamation, instead, set in motion a unique confluence of events soon to take place in Bethlehem.

Implications of Augustus’ registration decree compelled Joseph and Mary, at the point when she was ready to give birth to their firstborn son, to endure the compounded dangers and risks of making the long 90-mile trek on foot through the steep, hilly wilderness to Bethlehem.[14]

Meanwhile, Magi from a foreign country were in the process of making a month’s long journey to Jerusalem not knowing they would eventually also end up in Bethlehem…a small town where none of them had planned to be. King Herod would actually send the Magi to Bethlehem to find the baby “King of the Jews in a effort to kill him.

Had Jesus been born in Nazareth, the Magi would never have found him in Bethlehem and Micah’s Bethlehem Messiah prophecy requirement could not have been fulfilled. Was the timing of the Town Crier’s announcement of Caesar’s decree merely a coincidence that unexpectedly changed the birthplace of Jesus from Nazareth to Bethlehem?

 

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REFERENCES:

[1] Finkel, Michael.  “Bethlehem 2007 A.D.” National Geographic.  December, 2007.
[2] Smith, William. “Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography.” 3rd Ed., Vol. 1. 1901. “Census.” Google Books. <https://books.google.com/books?id=Cu89AAAAYAAJ&pg=PA403&lpg=PA403&dq=greek+word+for+census&source=bl&ots=LM1MjmCiJt&sig=1_yjJgyNxcCcSWZvf0QK69IJuMw&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjx0oPA04DYAhXo6YMKHebvAEwQ6AEIejAK#v=onepage&q=census&f=false>  Livius, Titus. The History of Rome.  Book 33, #28. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.02.0144:book=33:chapter=28&highlight=crier>  Pliny the Elder.  The Natural History. 1.Dedication C. Plinius Secundus to His Friend Titus Vespasian. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.02.0137:book=1:chapter=dedication&highlight=crier#note-link34>
[3] Net.Bible.org. kensos <2778>.  http://classic.net.bible.org/strong.php?id=2778>; Search results, <http://classic.net.bible.org/search.php?search=greek_strict_index:2778>  Strong, James, LL.D., S.T.D.  The New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. “2778 kensos.” 1990.  “G2778.” Lexicon-Concordance Online Bible n.d. <http://lexiconcordance.com/greek/2778.html>
[4] “Census.”  Merriam-Webster. 2017. <https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/census>
[5] Net.bible.org. Luke Greek text. Strong, James. “apographo <583> (Greek).” The New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. 1990.
[6] NASV, NRSV, ASV, BBE, KJV.
[7] Net.bible.org. Greek text.  Strong. “aprographe <582> (Greek).”  The New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible.
[8] Hu, Shuqin. “Context in Translation.” Journal of Language Teaching and Research. 2010. Vol. 1, No. #, pp 325-325. <http://www.academypublication.com/issues/past/jltr/vol01/03/25.pdf>  “Importance of Context in Translation.” OneHourTranslation.com. 2015. <https://www.onehourtranslation.com/translation/blog/importance-context-translation>
[9] Smith, William. “Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography.” 3rd Ed., Vol. 1. 1901. “Census.”  Augustus, Caesar.  The Deeds of the Devine Augustus. #8. <http://classics.mit.edu/Augustus/deeds.html>  Cicero, M. Tullius.  “For Marcus Caelius.” #32. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.02.0020:text=Cael.:chapter=32&highlight=census>  Cicero. “For Milo.” #27. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.02.0020:text=Mil.:chapter=27&highlight=census>  Cicero. “For Archias.” #5. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.02.0019:text=Arch.:chapter=5&highlight=censors>  Livius. The History of Rome. Book 9, #19. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.02.0026:book=9:chapter=19&highlight=census>  Livius. The History of Rome. Book 43, #14. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.02.0144:book=43:chapter=14&highlight=censors>
[10] Net.bible.org. “proserchomai <4334>”; “telones <5057>; “telonion <5058>”; phoros <5411>; “kensos <2778>”.
[11] Smith, William. “Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography.” 3rd Ed., Vol. 1. 1901. “Census.”
[12] “incense.”  Merriam-Webster.  Peck, Harry Thurston. Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities (1898). “Incensus.” <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.04.0062:entry=incensus-harpers&highlight=incensus>  Smith, W. “Censor.” Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities.
[13]Gertoux, Gerard. “Dating the two Censuses of Quirinius.”  n.d.  Academia.edu.  <http://www.academia.edu/3184175/Dating_the_two_Censuses_of_Quirinius>  Heinrich, Bill. Mysteries of the Messiah. 2016. “The Registration (Census).” <https://www.mysteriesofthemessiah.net/2016/01/04-03-09-bethlehem-c-6-5-b-c-the-registration-or-census/#_ftnref3>
[14] “What is the distance between Nazareth and Bethlehem?” Reference.com. 2017. <https://www.reference.com/geography/distance-between-nazareth-bethlehem-6ac7e95c8360c7c7#>  “Distance between Nazareth and Bethlehem.” DistanceFromTo.net. 2017. <https://www.distancefromto.net/between/Nazareth/Bethlehem>